Tag Archives: social comment

AS I SEE IT.. EQUALITY

George Aiken once said “If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and colour, we would find some other cause for prejudice by noon.”

brian portlandOver the past couple of weeks, I have been reading, talking and listening to a variety of comments on a number of topics involving Equality.. Somewhere on this Mortal Coil, we seem to have gotten out of tilt. At the fore is the debate on Gay & Lesbian marriage, or Civil Union. So, as I see it, it’s this simple.. What you do behind closed doors is your business, no one else’s..

I remember growing up in a rural community, amidst a hardened bunch of farmers and railway workers.. tough men .. But here’s the thing.. they were big softies and cared about their community and the folk in it..

Amongst them were a couple of blokes, ordinary blokes, going about their daily business. One a successful dress designer, the other a store manager. Many a time, my mother would send me to this store to get this and that and I was always impressed with the neatness and well organised layout of the shop.. Nothing out of place and its manager immaculately dressed.. Polite to everyone that came and went.

On cold wet miserable days during Winter, he would provide a “Cuppa” for those that came to town once a month to buy their supplies, sometimes covered in mud, wet and cold, still in their bush clothes. That cup of tea and a freshly made scone provided a welcome relief.. Nothing was a bother and everyone was welcome. You see, in his eyes everybody was equal. He would fuss over the wives and show them the latest catalogues and dote over the children, while the men would go about their business heading off to the sale-yards or to the local pub. Good business you might say, as he sold a lot of product.

The other bloke was a successful dress designer, had won numerous international awards, but choose to live in this small rural community.. He travelled the world, mixing on the international stage and was the envy of many, but proud of his community. Many a time I would pop into his store and we would talk of people he had dined with, musicians, royalty, millionaires and the stars.. He would produce photo albums and point out his favourites… I would listen for hours to the stories and he would transport me to another world, another time..We would listen to his prized Jazz recordings, given to him personally by some of the greats.. George Shearing, Ella Fitzgerald, the “Count” Armstrong…this list goes on. He introduced me to this wonderful world of Jazz and used to say..”When they play their music, they stand as equal”

You see, I have never forgotten this and my love of Jazz continues to this day. I was young and impressionable at this time.. I met many of his friends over the years,amongst them that infamous Drag Queen..Carmen, many entertainers and simple friends. It was for me a special time in my life, but here’s the thing.. These two blokes were Gay! that’s right.. Gay! They had formed a friendship back in 1952 and had remained together till their dying day. Together, living, loving and sharing their whole lives all these years, in this hardened rural community..

Oh, many suspected they were a little different, but no one really cared. Many a time, I would hear the odd comment about these two blokes.. At first, I said nothing, but one incident led me to speak out. I did and to this day, I have no regrets. There were and I suspect, still are people living in this town that remain ‘homophobic’.. ‘That’s their business’.. But let me just say this.. I have never seen a more loving, devoted couple. When one of these men fell ill, the other nursed him until he breathed his last breath. Sadly he also passed away.. Both these funerals were overflowing with people…The hardened farmers, retired bush & railway workers, their children, families and friends..

These two men were loved and respected. Not one person cared about their sexual preference.. They were there to pay their respect to two gentleman that cared for their community..

Sadly, this world has changed.. We have become so caught up in all of its political correctness, that we have in many ways, forgotten about the old fashioned values that we were instilled with.. We just don’t want to be seen to be stepping outside of the square and speaking out..

President Obama has done that..Perhaps you might just say it is nothing more that political, you are entitled to that..The church has it’s view and tries to persuade us, telling us what they want us to hear.. Perhaps we should just look at the time of the Borgias.

Politicians influence us, as do many other social factors today..but when I had the privilege of seeing a relationship built on love and trust, in the middle of changing times through the 60’s, last into this century, I have to start to wonder..

You see, they got something right.. They didn’t care how society saw them..

To each other they were simply “EQUAL” in every way.

AS I SEE IT…. ANZAC DAY 2012

Thomas Mann once said

War is a cowardly escape from the problems of peace.

I don’t much like ANZAC DAY.. too many bad memories.

Anzac SoldierAs I sit and reflect, my thoughts are of my grandfather, not a hero, just a simple man that embarked on an adventure 97 odd years ago.. He was wounded and returned home.. His adventure over.

He, like alot of young men of the time, changed his surname and added a year or so to his age, just to enlist. He achieved this, but lived to regret the decision for the rest of his life.. You see, it was like this…He, along with many thousands of others had no idea of what they had let themselves in for… We can’t even begin to imagine!! There are countless stories of this horrific time in our history. Nightmares that lasted a lifetime.. Families torn apart by the ravages of war.. How many times have we heard this? Thousands!!

Every year at this time, these memories are relived over and over.. My grandfather married a young lass from Victoria. Like lots of young blokes at the time, they married quickly.. I once asked him why.. His answer..”We were in Love” Stupid of me really..of course they were in love.. He with the adventure and a married man to boot.. My grandmother, put through a living hell.

He went off to foreign shores, she not knowing if he would ever return. He was one of the lucky ones…He did return, but his life was never to be the same.. My recollection of him was that of a “hard bastard” with a deep dark secret, one I never really understood in my growing years.. His medals are confined to a display in an army museum and that’s where they will stay. He wanted no reminder of that time..

He moved to New Zealand and was given a government ballot farm.. 100 acres of prime farmland. He worked it hard, raised a family and tried to put the past behind him.. He could not! Every year at this time, he was reminded of the brutality of Gallipoli, the landing, the slaughter, disease and infection, mud and trenches and “Johnny Turk”

As the years passed, his body slowed, but his mind never did…He never forgot! Every ANZAC day he cried.. I learned this from my father, something I could not understand as a youngster, but in later years, came to know the reason. His tears were filled with sadness and joy. Sadness for those he left behind. Joy, that he was wounded and his hell was over.

I met some of his mates… Hard men, scarred for life because of that horrendous time. Many had turned to booze to help them overcome their youthful adventure, sometimes described as worse than hell itself.. We all have our own stories from family and our own reflections of ANZAC DAY.. The forging of mate-ship between equal men from both sides of the Tasman, fighting for their King & Country. A bond that is still very much alive today and will continue long into the future…

It brings me to a story about a forgotten group of heroes, not from Gallipoli, but from a little known island in the Pacific.. It’s a story, of 17 men who were beheaded on October 15, 1942, along with five other white men on Tarawa in what is now Kiribati.These men were Coast watchers. They had all been tied up to coconut trees in front of Commander Keisuke Matsuo house on Betio.

What happened at around 2pm on 15 October 1942 is not clear. Some say a US warship shelled the island and two aircraft attacked Japanese ships in the lagoon. One of the prisoners may have waved to the planes.

One Japanese soldier stepped forward to the first European in the line and cut his head off. The rest followed in quick succession. They were New Zealanders. Nothing was found of these dead men..

The Americans erected a small memorial to them. They were pretty much forgotten about until recently… But despite orders not to get close to the locals, the radio operators and the soldiers had relationships with the women of the atolls. And they left a number of children. Discretely the New Zealand Government paid for their education. Their many grandchildren can still be found in Kiribati. A monument was erected – paid for by the Australian Government – but had been unable to fend off continued vandalism. Instead of a solemn moment, it is stained with fish guts and human excrement.

The New Zealand bodies were never found although the US Army last year found human remains that may well be New Zealanders. Testing has yet to be completed to confirm it.

There is one last survivor..John Jones. He is 91, and will lay a wreath, driven by the passion that he is the only survivor of a unique group of men. Jones was also the first New Zealand Japanese prisoner of war.

He doesn’t much like Anzac Day either… too many bad memories.

AS I SEE IT…ACCESS

Donald H. Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence once said… “If you are not criticised, you may not be doing much.”

As a double amputee in a wheelchair, access is paramount and something I am passionate about.. Many a time I have been criticised for speaking out on this basic right.. but here’s the thing.. most people tend to sit back and say nothing..I can’t do that.

wheelchair accessFor the past 6 months, I have spent a fair amount of time travelling. Access is a big thing to one such as myself… Hotels, airlines, trains, buses, footpaths, shops let alone bathrooms and public conveniences! Where do I start?

Let’s just look at getting from the Gold Coast to Coolangatta airport for starters. The airport bus works fine…when the bus is capable of lowering the ramp!

Sadly this does not happen all of the time.. They simply do not work! My argument here, is simple…they should not be on the road! They are defective, same applies with “wheelchair taxis” if defective, they need to be withdrawn from service and repaired…simple as that!

Now, I’m probably going to upset a few of you… Gold Coast Airport, as you know, has no air-bridge. Some will argue this is a good thing. Try it from a wheelchair and you soon realise it is not! It is that simple! For this reason, I choose to travel up to Brisbane and fly from there. The trains are fantastic and very accessible and personally, I have never encountered a problem.

Now to the airlines… I could not believe that the particular airline I choose to fly did not have an aisle chair on board the aircraft. UNBELIEVABLE!!

I immediately addressed the issue with this carrier and I am happy to say, whilst there is still no chair on board, they are working toward a solution. You see, no one had ever bothered to point it out to them, so they were unaware of the problem.

The thing here is, they took OWNERSHIP and are working to resolve this issue. I continue to fly with them and have nothing but praise for the way in which they have addressed the issue. No need to jump up and down and create a scene at the airport. I just don’t have that chip on my shoulder.

Most accommodations these days, must provide an accessible room. The definition of accessible varies considerably and this is where the problem arises..What you and I call accessible, I am sure is poles apart. It’s simple…Access into the bathroom, shower and wide enough to cater for most wheelchairs.

With the Commonwealth Games upon us, we need to be thinking about total access now. I put my hand up to advise and assist the GCCC in this process. It simply must be right! In the United States, nothing is left to chance…NOTHING!

Ok, I grant you that the laws there allow for an individual to sue the pants off whoever gets it wrong. They pretty much have it right. Sadly the privilege is abused when it comes to cruising as laws there do not allow them to question your right to an accessible cabin on a ship.

What annoyed me there, was the number of people that abused the right. Climbed into a wheelchair, just to get to the front of the queue, then walked to the buffet or took the lift, simply because they were obese, or just plain lazy. Harsh yes, but fact!

Did I get angry, speak out…absolutely! Was I criticised for doing so, yes! Would I stop and sit back and let this happen NO!

Again, here’s the thing, I don’t care too much about myself, I can and have been speaking out for nearly 40 years as a Broadcaster and Journalist.

I have helped implement change and am proud of that achievement. The people I care about are our “Diggers, the elderly & frail, those that can’t speak out, simply because they are struggling to cope with their daily existence.

This brings me to the point I wish to hammer home…Right now, there is a lot of construction taking place on the Gold Coast with the building of the “LITE RAIL” access for anyone is difficult, let alone those who are frail, elderly, young families with strollers and of course those of us confined to a wheelchair.

I have addressed the issue and whilst the authorities are concerned, sadly they just play “lip service” to the problem and throw a bit of hot mix over the paths with no consideration to those that have to struggle on a daily basis, just to get to their corner store…It needs to be changed…Attitudes need to change as does the planners thinking.

No doubt I will be criticised once again for speaking out, but as I said at the start of this article, quoting from Donald H Rumsfeld…“If you are not criticised, you may not be doing much.”

I hope I am doing something!

AS I SEE IT… Eulogy to a Great Man

Bob Wells once said “Your true value depends entirely on what your compared with”

Brian and RonI’ve just buried my dad.. to be exact, on the 25th of January. He was truly agreat man, top dad and granddad. You might recall, I wrote my blog about Fathers Day and it was a bit of a tribute to my “Old Man”. It was about getting in touch, calling your dad and just saying “I love You Dad”.

I used that blog to form the basis of my eulogy at his funeral.

I want to share a little of Dad with you all.. Over the past few days, I have reflected on his life and his achievements. Ronald Leslie Portland, less than ordinary really..or was he?

He moved to Taumarunui, in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island, a cold wet and drab place in the Winter.. Hot and dry in the Summer.

As a youngster, he grew up in the lush Waikato farming community of Matamata, known for it’s Thoroughbreds & Dairy farms.

His dad, was awarded a ballot farm after WW I ended. His mother, our “Nana” hailed from the Australian state of Victoria, the daughter of a trucking magnate, hence my dads fascination with trucks.. He was in the Fire Brigade and whilst there forged lasting friendships. Friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

Met, wooed and courted my Mother, Ila, who no doubt was waiting with open arms to greet him. Probably telling him off for giving St Peter a hard time on the way through. He was a handsome bugger in his day, no wonder my Mother fell for him hook, line and sinker. She was a bit of a looker too! (as most of you will remember.)

I recall, in those early days, he also drove a taxi and I remember some of the stories he told reluctantly about that time. The Tangiwai Train disaster, befriending a very young Trevor Rupe, better known to you as Carmen. No doubt they are reminiscing right now!!

Ron..as he was fondly known, ran the Rangatira Service Station and became an institution, pumping petrol, dressed immaculately in his peak cap, green shirt and black bow-tie.. White coat on special occasions, like the time the NZ film Commission filmed “Don’t let it Get You” with Lew Prime and Kiri Te Kawana. I helped out at the service station, hosing down the forecourt. He made me feel important! Helped myself to the takings too. He knew, and covered it up.

Then one day, in came this Jag, filled it up and off they sped. None other than the famous Gilles Ave bank robbers.. He dined on that one for some time.. The tyre bay was his bar, flagons of beer consumed with the local police and Catholic Priest.. He would buy Fr King the “truth” every week and they have a chuckle over a flagon or two…and so life went on, just an ordinary bloke.

Then, it happened. Caltex flew him and his tanker driver mate, Bob Cooper to Sydney.. Unbeknown, they went seeking permission to open a little canteen on the refurbished Service Station. This was basically the first food outlet in the country attached to a Servo..and it put me through college. Not that I knew it at the time. Bonici Motors took a bus to the Chateau every weekend during the skiing season and Mum & Dad cashed in on this.. They would call ahead from Te Kuiti with an approximate time of arrival and whilst refuelling with diesel, the passenger’s would fill up on home made pies and soup..Something that became legendary over the years.

They were the best of times, or so I thought. I was completely unaware of the hardships they were enduring, but never once did I see my dad loose it in front of any of us boys.

Oh, he knew some pretty important people too.. Politicians, Film Stars and a whole bunch of other folk, some I came to know later in life.. Sir Michael Fowler, Sir Basil Arthur Roy Jack, the Meads Bothers, Those famous Kiwi All Blacks. Police inspectors. And the list goes on.. One of my fondest memories was the time we spent with McLaren & Brabam, those racing greats.. Of course, I cannot leave out Tuesday Weld, a beautiful actress that I got to know in those formative years.

He loved to go camping and some of the fondest memories are of those times in the bush. Every Sunday we would go for a drive, an adventure really, drive for miles and miles in the Mark 2 Zephyr, then the Mark 3 and that famous Jowett Javelin. German precision, he would delight in saying. His dream was to own a Mercedes. I think he did get to drive one. Then there was the “Shop Truck” a 40’s something Ford. We loved those trips to the dump.

In the mid 60’s Ron, Dad, decided on a career change. Right out of left field he became the Bailiff. A job he absolutely loved. There are so so many stories of that time, but a couple that stand out are the day he and Phil Van Duschoeten, a local policeman went bush..to this day, I don’t think any one really knows what happened..but they had a hell of an adventure. That I do know.

The other that stands out, is the day the two of them went to seize some livestock from the infamous Huti Barratt. They arrived at the Taringamoutu Farm, told Huti they were going to seize the livestock, painted a blue cross on the stock to be taken. Got a call around 5:30am from one very irate Ongarue Transport driver. You see, cunning Huti and his boys had painted a blue cross on every living animal in site, including the dogs. That put paid to the stock being carted off but he locked Huti up anyway! There are many many more stories that I’m sure will be told, some here, some there..where ever that may be.

Dad, one things for sure..you will never be forgotten. So while I was pondering my weekly column, it dawned on me that Fathers Day was upon us and vivid in my mind was the journey that my son Phil, and you and I took. The post I wrote about Fathers day can be found here.

Dad…I love you. Ya old bugger.. Rest in eternal peace.. I know you’ll be talking the hind leg of a donkey. And just don’t you ever stop mate.. Safe travels Dad.. Lord knows you’ll be doing plenty of it!!

As I See It – Body Image?

“There are two kinds of “disabled” persons: Those who dwell on what they have lost and those who concentrate on what they have left.” Thomas S. Szasz Spare Parts

I have been pondering a thought, after a conversation I had with a friend the other day. To be honest with you, I found it a little weird, in fact, it bordered on the the macabre! To be honest, it has disturbed me somewhat since,  so, I have decided to share it with you..

Now, as  most of you probably know, I lost my legs in a horrific train accident, (through no ones fault at the end of the day) and up until that day,life for this  21 year old was pretty good. Fit, healthy and  full of vim. One could even say ten foot tall and bullet proof. Well we all were at that age really? I adjusted pretty quickly to my new surroundings without legs.  Just got on with it !!  As you know, I like to think that I have a pretty positive attitude. Over the years, I have seen many disabled people  having to prove some point or other, not only to those around them, but more-so to themselves!.. We have all seen the incredible feats that these people have go to, challenging their physical and mental fitness climbing  a mountain or bumming their way up the Kokoda Track,  trekking in the Himalayas,  jumping out of an aeroplane or wheeling from one side of the globe to the other. Then they write the book and get on to the speaking circuit… Not all, but a fair number… Good on them I say!! They are inspirations  and if it helps them to cope in some way with their disability…go for it! Unfortunately, in my opinion, they are still coming to terms with their own demons and have not worked through the grief.. They still have to come to a point of acceptance.. Yes, sure, each of us is different and what worked for me, may not work for others.. I have said many times, I’m a “Glass half full” kind of guy…always have been and always will be.. That’s me!

Here’s the thing.. I have always considered myself ‘normal’, My colleagues have always seen and considered me as ‘normal’… I recall an incident that I still joke about with my best mate… Working at a particular radio station, the “On-Air” team decided to challenge a rival  station to a night of ten pin bowling… This was a great fun event and the competition was fierce… My mate, who happened to be the Station Manager, organised the bowling shoes… I’m waiting with the rest of the crew, when he turns around and straight as a die says  “Porty….what size show do you take?” As quick as lightening I replied “10 and a half” The person behind the counter just stared at him with disbelief… Just normal as normal… we still laugh about that to this day.. My boys saw me as no different to any other dad. Oh, they quickly worked out that they could test me to the limit and knew just how far to push the boundary. My work colleagues didn’t take too much notice of the fact that I was legless and in a wheelchair… After all I was another voice on the radio. Who needed legs to talk on air?  So on it went.  I guess all things considered, I did ok.. Had a pretty good career and loving family..  Don’t get me wrong… I had my share of ups & downs like anyone else. My own demons to deal with. I did that in my own way coming to a place of peace within myself.

Then, the other day my world turned upside down! I had a conversation with a disabled person who by choice had a leg surgically removed because they did not like the way they looked and from what I gather didn’t like the way other people looked at them. I reacted more quite surprised and even angry when I heard this.

Should I have reacted the way I did?

I questioned the ethic of this. Yes, it is your body and I guess you have the right to decide. Then I read about an art exhibition called “SPARE PARTS” this was a collection of prosthetics, all painted in a variety of colour & design. Innovative, I thought, until I did some further research. What I discovered is that these people nurture and caress these limbs in a way I personally find a little intriguing.

Is this normal, I asked myself?

Thomas S. Szasz sums it up rather well “There are two kinds of “disabled” persons: Those who dwell on what they have lost and those who concentrate on what they have left”

Personally I prefer the latter.

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